Italian Chef Receives Catholic Faith, and a Renowned Washington-Area Restaurant, From His Father

Richard Micheli runs the family-owned restaurant — The Portofino in Arlington, Virginia — which his father opened more than 50 years ago.

Richard Micheli
Richard Micheli (photo: theportofinorestaurant.com)

Washington, DC, resident Richard Micheli comes by his culinary passion naturally. Not only have three earlier generations of Micheli chefs inspired his talents, he is also a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Now he has taken command of this renowned local Italian restaurant, The Portofino Restaurant, also in Arlington. His work must make his father proud, for his dad began this popular eatery back in 1970.

But he credits both his parents for his love of cooking. “My mom is a wonderful cook,” he said. “She is not an industrial chef but my dad is a professional chef. I was raised in a restaurant, my dad’s The Portofino.” Although he went to culinary school, he said he never had any interest in being in the kitchen. But he attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, studying the restaurant business, and his studies ended him up at his dad’s restaurant.

“I thought if one knows how to run a kitchen, he would have more control of the business. This way I could dictate how to run the front and the back of the house.” And when he started, he admitted he loved coming up with new items and new dishes for the menu. However, the menu is basically traditional Italian fare, featuring veal and pasta dishes, but no pizzas. Micheli has been the chef since pre-COVID days and works five days a week.

“Our most popular dishes,” he said, “are lasagna and fettucine alfredo, as those are traditional Italian items.”

And his favorite dish? Veal marsala and a scampi linguine al pesto, which is on the menu four times a week. “We make our own pesto,” he added.

Not only was Micheli born into a cooking family, his parents are also devout Catholics. “My father is from Italy,” he said, “and my mom is from Spain. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and attended Bishop Ireton high school in Alexandria. … We went regularly to Mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.”

The family would also go into Washington to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and also to the Holy Rosary Church that had a large Italian-American community. “I still bring my kids to that parish,” he said.

His parents are still very active in local Catholic groups. They are each members of the Knights of Malta, and his mother is a member of the Holy Sepulchre, a groups similar to the Knights. They both organize events locally to spread the Catholic faith. “My parents are very involved in local communities and in supporting those groups.”

As Micheli looks back over his connection to his faith to the foods he prepares, he hopes all his experiences keep him balanced, and motivated towards helping his customers. “That is when I am cooking,” he said, “that is in me as a Catholic growing up. It is ingrained in you and continues with whatever you do. You have your faith behind you because you live that way.”

Micheli also uses his restaurant to host the Serra Club to promote vocations. “We also host dinners for the Knight of Columbus and for dinner for the bishop’s meeting in the Arlington Diocese.”


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Omaggi di Nettuno — The Portofino Restaurant

Serves 4


Lobster sauce

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 lobster bodies
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 4 ounces sherry wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 8 ounces heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, and sauté the lobster bodies until the shells turn red. Add the chopped garlic, and continue cooking. Stir in the tomato paste for one minute. Add the sherry wine to deglaze the pan and stir. Cover the contents with about one quart water. Add the bay leaf and black peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce the heat to low to simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain the broth, squeezing out all the juices from the shells. Return to the heat, and add the heavy cream. Turn the heat to low.

Make a slurry by combing the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water. Add slurry to hot broth and stir vigorously to combine. Bring back to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Strain and reserve.

 

Omaggi Pasta

  • 4-1/4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes, optional
  • 4 lobster tails, split in half
  • 8 jumbo shrimp, peeled
  • 4 cups sliced button mushrooms
  • 16 scallops, 20-30 size, or substitute size
  • 2 ounces sherry wine
  • 4 cups lobster sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • One pound fettucine or pappardelle pasta, cooked and cooled separately

Heat a pan large enough to hold the seafood over medium heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and lobster tails, cut side down. Cook for 2 minutes. Turn the tail to shell side down. Stir in the mushrooms, shrimp, and scallops. Add the sherry wine, and cook for one minute. Stir in the lobster sauce, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 2 minutes. Remove the seafood and set aside. Add the pasta to the sauce. When heated through spoon into separate bowls. Top the pasta with the seafood, and check the flavors. Add more salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon more sauce over the seafood. Enjoy!

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